Coffee House

Philip Hammond’s tarnished relations with military top brass fly into the open

18 September 2012

18 September 2012

Talking to diplomatic sources this evening, there’s a depressed recognition that the Taliban and its allies have scored a major victory in forcing Nato to scale back joint patrols with Afghan forces. Here, the government has mishandled the news. Number 10 is trying to deny the strategic importance of this shift, while the normally sure-footed Philip Hammond made a series of clumsy answers to questions in parliament.

Part of the problem is that Hammond was sent to the Ministry of Defence not for his interest in military matters but for his commitment to balancing the books. In private, he says that he hopes his legacy will be a genuinely, balanced MoD budget—and he does appear to be making impressive progress towards that goal. But this focus meant that when Hammond was informed of the move to scale back joint patrols on Monday, he failed to grasp its significance.

This incident may well bring into the open the increasingly tetchy relations between Hammond and the services. Nearly all defence secretaries, have difficulties with one— or all — of the services. But the need for budget cuts and the strategic defeat that Afghanistan is fast turning into mean that relations between Hammond and the brass have become tarnished particularly quickly.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.

Show comments
  • Iain Hill

    Taliban = the people of Afghanistan. Constant efforts to Misportray them as a small group misleads everyone and misinforms policy. Karzai’s writ hardly extends beyond Kabul.

  • dalai guevara

    Strange how the talks of EU foreign secretaries with regard to pushing further integration is not reported in the UK. Instead, we welcome every opportunity of keeping face when leaving Afghanistan earlier than planned.

  • HooksLaw

    You talk glibly but ignorantly. If you read the military airpower magazines you would note that the RAF are if fact quite pleased and are thinking that they will get an extra fighter (or ‘fast jet’) squadron over and above what they were planning. Why? Because they can afford it since the finances are more secure.

    Hammond did not publish the defence white paper, the previous incumbent did. And Hammond in fact (a small matter of fact you studiously ignore) is minister of defence because the last right wing tory incumbent made a fool of himself. . Easy to see why when you read the thick right wing comments on here.

  • Oppo

    Can’t blame greasy Phil for the abysmal perfomance of the British Army over the last decade. Basra to Sangin, faliure after faliure.

    • HooksLaw

      Sadly you have something of a point. We certainly failed in Basra. It’s a small defence for our generals that they were given a task but not the political support to carry it out.
      Labour were happy for the army to do its thing but were not willing to tell it to suffer the necessary casualties. Small surprise therefore that the brass limited the activities of its forces to limit their losses. Tragically lives were thus lost for no purpose.

      Everything about Afghanistan has been half cock. Blair and Obama are to blame for that. Our strategic interests can be served by training the local army and otherwise (ie the much maligned aid) propping up Afghanistan. Air power will stop terrorist training camps returning. This govt have made the commitment to leave.

  • Daniel Maris

    The sooner we recognise that robot warfare is the way forward the better. The days of suicidal and ineffective patrols through IED-infested terrain should be long over by now.

    With a range of robot drones we can have 24 hours patrols rather than the fitful human patrols that are easily evaded or attacked by the Taliban.

    Every day in the park you can see kids playing with radio controlled cars. Why don’t we have thousands of these in military versions with mounted cameras to do the patrolling.

    We’re good at technology – we should be way ahead on this.

    • El_Sid

      The drone revolution is already happening – but ground vehicles are lagging behind small aircraft like the AeroVironment Switchblade and RQ-16A T-Hawk because the air is a much easier environment to navigate – look up the cancelled XM1219 for an example of the problems with ground robots. The US is getting closed to using unmanned vehicles for supplying forward bases, either in the air (Kaman K-MAX) or look up BigDog on Youtube, which will reduce the vulnerability of the humans who do the job now.

      But as the revolution proceeds a few things are becoming clear. One is that robots aren’t necessarily cheaper – in fact the likes of Global Hawk have purchase costs comparable to manned aircraft, as well as needing more personnel to support them and lots of bandwidth on expensive satellites. The other is that even bleeding-edge technology doesn’t give the robots “good enough” independence in a hostile environment. A trivial example is the Taliban intercepting Predator video feeds using satellite TV equipment; a more serious one is the Iranians spoofing GPS to bring down the RQ-170 Beast of Kandahar. But bandwidth and enemy interference are major problems for your RC cars.

      Navigation aside, sometimes there’s just no substitute for having men on the ground – you’re unlikely to get much human intelligence if you expect local elders to chat to a drone. So a consensus seems to be emerging that in many cases the best use of drones is as “wingmen” to humans – that way you get human situational awareness and the security of line-of-sight communications, but the drones can go off to investigate particularly dangerous nooks and crannies, and generally expand the reach of the humans.

      Going back to the Bastion attack – that’s a great advertisement for the limitations of robots. It’s a static situation, so you don’t need the complication of navigation and locomotion. They had cameras and motion sensors lining the fence – as comprehensive a network of remote sensing robots as you could assemble. It still didn’t prevent the attack, although it probably meant the response was a lot more effective than if a similar camp had been attacked in WWII.

  • Arthur

    When did the first duty of the State become the funding of benefits, rather than the protection of the country and its citizens? Hammond just fits the mould of the accountant politician, when the country needs someone who wants to actually defend us.

    • HooksLaw

      Usual crass rubbish. Fox reordered the defence budget. Remember him – the right winger?
      We protect our country through NATO.
      Meantime our defence budget is one of the biggest in the world. Labour and its compliant generals and civil servants grossly mismanaged it.

      But hey – don’t let the facts get in the way of your prejudice.

      • Arthur

        So who in NATO is going to protect us, and our interests across the globe? Belgium? Germany? France?

        It doesn’t matter how big the budget is, it’s what you’ve bought that matters. Yes, the budget has been grotesquely mismanaged, but I would suggest in my crass old way that one might be able to sort out the issues without making soldiers redundant, in the middle of a war, or leaving the Royal Navy with 19 warships. It’s a question of priorities, and most of the current parties seem to have different ones to me. Ho hum.

      • Arthur

        So who in NATO is going to protect us, and our interests across the globe? Belgium? Germany? France?

        It doesn’t matter how big the budget is, it’s what you’ve bought that matters. Yes, the budget has been grotesquely mismanaged, but I would suggest in my crass old way that one might be able to sort out the issues without making soldiers redundant, in the middle of a war, or leaving the Royal Navy with 19 warships. It’s a question of priorities, and most of the current parties seem to have different ones to me. Ho hum.

  • In2minds

    Hammond and his lack of – “interest in military matters”, well this stops him being as daft as the top brass that have made such a mess of things.

  • TomTom

    Why not paint roundels on the backs of British soldiers to help Afghan terrorists with their targetting ? Why not tell us how the Taliban dressed in US military garb last Friday after 10pm infiltrated Camp Bastion and destroyed SIX USMC Harriers costing $30 million a copy with suicide bombers so close-air support for troops is now reduced. We get told about “Prince Harry” to divert attention from the loss of £200 million of aircraft. Also 3 refuelling stations were destroyed plus 6 soft-skin aircraft hangars.

    Let’s just hope they don’t get upset about any YouTube videos or they might do even worse things ! …..

  • anyfool

    Regardless of the cuts to Defence budgets some of the reasons for the allies coming defeat in Afghanistan are down to pernicious rules of engagement, one of which states you cannot open fire unless you are under fire first, these politicians have watched too many westerns starring John Wayne, it is exceptionally rare to jump up from a bullet wound. it is time to scrap politically correct crap like this and institute a shoot to kill on reasonable suspicion, forget the crap of trying to make them like you they never will, that includes the thieving turds running and looting the country.

    • Alan Eastwood

      If they see an Afghan on a hill with a gun, they cannot open fire. If they see an Afghan placing an IED they cannot open fire. These rules of engagement have been written by cowards, who dare not upset anyone. No backbone, no guts and they are in charge- whatever political persuasion runs the country.
      We have not learnt from history, the senior officers are still in a WW1 mindset. Hold the Ground is the mantra yet the men go out, hoping they will not be shot or blown up, then go back to their compound allowing the taliban to lay more ied’s etc. Utter and total madness.
      We are, and I pray not, facing a repeat of a hundred years ago. One came back.
      Not often I agree with Dennis McShane (who the Spectator has ignored-why?) who in the HOC said this was an unwinnable war and we should bring the troops home now. That brought the unbelievable reply from Hammond that it would be an insult to those that have given their lives to pull out now….So more deaths and maiming of our men and women is okay. This man is not fit to run a whelk stall. God help the forces and us with this lot in charge.

      • TomTom

        No one “gives their lives” and our dead are not “glorious” they are simply sacrificed to poor strategy and politicians in thrall to some cause essential to personal advancement. This is a colonial war and it would be better for India to fight it since all the problems stem from 1947

      • HooksLaw

        No the rules are not written by cowards they are written by US generals who have in their turn served on the front line.
        The purpose of the rules reflects that hasty fire which kills civilians is counter productive and only recruits more people who plant bombs. This is the nature of anti terrorism.There are invariably howls of anguish when this collateral damage does happen.

        Macshane’s comments where execrable. Talking of ‘led by donkeys’ was cheap opportunistic drivel and forgets labours legacy since 2001.

        As ever, your own comments are cheap and ignorant. This govt are pulling us out of Afghanistan.

        • roger

          Civilians, farmers?, are allowed to own Kalashnikovs? We should have told the Afghan government to ban civilian arms before getting involved.
          Rules of engagement have always been a problem, the old NI yellow card was a terrorists charter.

          • anyfool

            Yes, but previous yellow cards were more sensible. they were based on common sense.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here